The Blondies go to a school described as ‘socially crunchy’. By this, I mean the catchment area covers everything from single bedroom council flats to eight bedroomed fuck off massive houses that come with ‘grounds’ rather than a back garden. There are the usual cliques in the school playground:
The mums with orange faces, crayoned eyebrows and cheap knock off boots, who smoke at the school gates.
The posh mums in black Range Rovers who have nice nails, swishy hair and are planning to send little Hugo to private school after year 6.
The middle class mums who cycle to work after they’ve dropped Millie off, make sure the packed lunch has cereal bars and a pot of olives, and go to the coast at weekends.
So far, so stereotypical. Except that it isn’t. The middle class mums have subcategories. I hadn't really considered this before. But now I've spotted it, I can no longer dismiss something as SOOO NR2.
A couple of weeks ago, The Blondies and I went to Norwich Castle Museum on a Saturday afternoon, and had a brilliant time. Apart from the bit where I made them walk there from our house. And the bit when I realised the RSPB were holding a special family friendly day at the Castle, so every family in Norwich had decided to go to there, and the place was heaving. And the bit when The Girl got bored of the stuffed birds and stomped off, pulling her Bat Face. And the bit where The Boy kept pointing out genitalia and saying really loudly ‘MUUUUMMMMMEEEEE! Look at his WILLLEEEEEE!!!!’ And the bit when The Girl got overheated and started crying in the packed Rotunda, drawing the eye of every single person there. And the bit when The Boy MASSIVELY freaked out on the upper floor of the castle keep because the wooden floor was creaking and he was convinced it was going to collapse, so I ended up carrying him on my back for twenty minutes. And the bit afterwards when I was trying to get hold of Alistair to pick us up and he wasn’t answering his phone and it was raining. And the bit when The Girl dropped her drink on the pavement and it went everywhere and she wailed like a banshee in the middle of a very busy street.
But apart from that it was great. I realised my ambition of making The Boy laugh when he saw this in the Norfolk landscape dioramas.
The Girl was beside herself with excitement at seeing the polar bear in the natural history gallery, especially when I explained how, when I was little, there was blood all over the seal. They’ve cleaned it up now, the spoilsports.
The Boy went crazy hunting for medieval graffiti on the walls of the keep (not hard, it’s bloody riddled with the stuff).
And I was stupidly overamused by the way this sign was laid out, as though it was some kind of beatnik style poem.
And I got to observe the two very different styles of middle class parenting on display – The Competitive Helicopter Performance Parent, and The Lentil Weaving Darling Parent.
The Competitive Helicopter Performance Parents (let’s just call them the CHPPs) tended to be male, with a four year old child clutching their hand and a toddler in a Phil & Ted buggy or a baby in a sling. Mother not in attendance, so I’m guessing the dad said to her ‘I’ll take the kids out, so you can get on with things (ie, do the housework)’ to which I can only hope she thought ‘Sod you’ and went to a local gastropub and drank three glasses of Pinot grigio with her lunch. The CHPPs did a lot of bending down, talking to the four year old ‘on their level’, with quite a lot of pointing at things and explaining ‘Look, Stan, there’s a statue of St Christopher! It came from a really old building, called a church. Can you remember when we went to that old church? What did we see? Did we see some statues? No, we didn’t see any statues, did we? There weren’t any in that church, were there? But this statue, this came from a church, a long, long time ago, in a time called the Georgian period. It was called the Georgian period because…’ Meanwhile, Stan is casting longing looks at the play area and dressing up box, downcast face because now he’s being told the story of the nativity as depicted in a medieval painting, and very definitely having An Educational Experience. The CHPP doesn’t release his grip on Stan’s hand throughout their visit, which is certain to include every gallery, especially the art ones, but will definitely miss out the fun bits like the dungeons and the battlements.
And all of this is being conducted very LOUDLY AND CLEARLY, every word being clearly en-un-ci-a-ted so that everyone within a ten foot radius can admire what a great, hands on, fully-engaged-with his-child father this dad is. If he happens to encounter another CHPP, they’ll exchange rueful smiles, roll their eyes up amusedly and then read something from one of the information boards to Stan, to make sure they don’t show themselves up by getting something wrong. If Stan is very lucky, he may be permitted to do some brass rubbing when they leave.
Then there were the Lentil Weaving Darling Parents (LWDPs). These were usually mums, for some reason, so I imagine their exasperated other halves were trying to work from home and begged them to take the children out. Having checked what events were on, they’d clearly seen the family friendly FUN day at the castle and thought ‘Ace! Free childcare!’, then shoved their kids off to do colouring in whilst they had a Fairtrade tea and flapjack in the café. And their children were, frankly, little shits. Running, screaming, through the whole building, sending toddlers flying, having sword fights with unarmed children (The Boy hid behind my back, The Girl was squaring up to them) and generally creating mayhem and bloodshed on a city-wide scale. Occasionally, the LWDP would look up and say in proud tones ‘Darling! That’s SO creative! Well done!’ as her nine year old son scribbled all over another child’s drawing to the mute horror of onlooking parents, before turning back to The Guardian. Then, when the howls of a child drew her attention, she’d watch as her six year old son thumped a four year old girl to get the cloak she was dressing up in, before stealthboasting ‘He’s SO determined to get what he wants, nothing really holds him back, does it darling?’.
You could see other parents passively aggressively trying to needle her by saying to their own offspring ‘No, Libby, we mustn’t snatch. You didn’t like it when that boy snatched your crayon, did you?’. If LWDP heard this she would simply smile sweetly and say ‘It’s a tricky stage, isn’t it? I remember when my eldest was like that.’ Blissfully unaware that behind her, her nine year old was stamping on the toes off the nice man from the RSPB because he wouldn’t give him one of the £5 posters for free. If her children approached her with a request for something, she’d brush them off with a tinkly laugh and tell them to see if they could scale the lift shaft to get to the knight in armour of the third floor. They'd slope off, hands in pockets, and then push each other over.
This experience left me absolutely shattered for the rest of the day. By half past four, The Blondies and I had had enough of being lectured to by the CHPPs and then having our shins bashed by feral children of the LWDP. We went down to the castle gardens and The Blondies played Star Wars whilst I tried to track down my elusive boyfriend. On the way home I came up with three vows to myself that I intend to stick to, with regards to parenting:
1. The most valuable thing you can give your child is your time and attention.
2. Children should enjoy learning, not have information overloaded onto them.
3. But a bit of benign neglect is a good thing and your child needs some space to indulge their creativity.
So if anyone asks what I'm doing on twitter when I'm with The Blondies, I am, obviously, applying my parental philosophy of benign neglect. There when they want me, in the background when they don't.